This goes along with the Times article on the Stone Pony that DenverDoc previously posted:
The Times interviewed The Boss for its oral history of the Asbury Park music venue. Here’s everything he said.
It has been called the House that Bruce built.
So as I went about telling the oral history of the Stone Pony, the legendary rock club in Asbury Park, N.J., an interview with Bruce Springsteen was essential.
Here’s the full transcript of what he said.
NICK CORASANITI When was the first time you ever set foot in the Stone Pony?
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN Well, the Pony was Mrs. Jay’s, you know? And Mrs. Jay’s had that corner spot and then right next to it was a Mrs. J’s Beer Garden. And we were down the street in a club called the Student Prince, and at some point Mrs. Jay’s turned into the Stone Pony. I don’t remember when that happened. And I guess I went up there to see Steve [Van Zandt] and Southside Johnny because they actually started at the Pony. We started at the Student Prince. So I might have went up there to see them, or to see some local bands, local guys. And so they had a regular residence at the Pony, I think three nights a week, and so we used to all go and hang out there and play. That’s my recollection of when I started to go to the Pony — basically somewhere in 1975 or 1976 or something.
[Read the full oral history.]
CORASANITI The first time you went, did you hop onstage or jam a little bit?
SPRINGSTEEN I don’t remember. You know, I don’t really remember. But I played with them pretty regularly. So, I’m not sure if the first time I went I played or not.
It was a place where the local community musicians went.
CORASANITI What was it about the Pony that made it a place you wanted to be at?
SPRINGSTEEN Generally, what gave the place atmosphere was the bands that were playing. And I went just because my friends were playing there. And they made it conducive for you to come and stay and hang out. Jack [Roig] and Butch [Pielka] were running the place at the time, and they were just friendly bar owners and were glad to see you, and glad to have you playing there or sitting in. It was just a friendly place.
CORASANITI I’ve read your book, and you talked a lot about the Upstage [music venue] and the kind of vibe that was created there and the ability to play with any kind of local artist and get up onstage, and that’s how you met some of your band members. Did it feel like after the Upstage closed, the Stone Pony was able to capture a little bit of that spirit and recreate it a little bit?
SPRINGSTEEN Well, once the Upstage closed, we had the Student Prince for a while, and that was our band. I think Stevie might have played there with his band also and it was a locals place, the place the locals went. Generally playing what you want to play, you were still in hostile territory in those days. There weren’t many places you could go and play what you wanted to play. Most of them were Top 40 bars.
So, the Student Prince was one of the few places you could do that at the time. And then the Pony came in and they were pretty open to the original bands, original local bands that came in and played, and then there were cover bands, too, that we played with all the time.
And it became like a Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday thing, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. And depending on who was playing, there were a pretty decent amount of other local bands that played also, and I’d sit in with them, too, very often from time to time. So yeah, I guess it picked up that sort of locals thing. It was a place where the local community musicians went.
CORASANITI You still felt a pretty deep connection to that?
SPRINGSTEEN I was living in the same general area, and that was probably where I was living in the 1970s. In Long Branch or Atlantic Highlands or somewhere, so I was still very much a part of just the local scene and I hadn’t moved away or anything. So the success was just something that was there to navigate. But I still pretty much lived the way that I, you know, same circle of friends, and same hangouts. And the Pony made it comfortable for me to be there. It wasn’t too crazy. So it was pretty comfortable. It was all right.
CORASANITI Do you have a favorite early memory or night of playing there, either one jam session or one show, that stands out?
SPRINGSTEEN Not really. I generally enjoyed when Southside played, and Steve, because they’re exceptional. To see that band in a club was quite exceptional. They had the horn section, which not a lot of people had at the time. They had a really good selection of material that they played. They played a great selection of soul music and blues. And it was a very, very exceptional band to have in residence two or three nights a week in your clubs. So those were my favorite nights.
CORASANITI Do you remember the big show, their record released in 1976, the one that was broadcast everywhere and kind of introduced the Pony to the world?
SPRINGSTEEN Oh, for Southside you mean? Yeah, yeah. That was a nice night, you know? It was just a great, great night.
CORASANITI Did it feel like after that like the world knew about the Stone Pony and you started to see a bigger crowd there? People started to come?
SPRINGSTEEN Well, I don’t remember, because I went to the Pony from about the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s. That’s sort of the golden age of the original Pony, you know, original Stone Pony. It was about that decade, as far as I can remember. And so, yeah, people started to come. People would show up from a lot of different places during that period of time, but I don’t remember. It never became a tourist spot from my memory. The place maintained its original feeling and vibe for that whole period of time.
CORASANITI I’ve seen some photos and heard so many stories about how it almost felt like a family. You guys would play pickup baseball.
SPRINGSTEEN We would play the Stone Pony, which was always hilarious. The E Street Band had a team. It was pretty good. And we would play the Stone Pony and other bars in the area, and they were just great and a very, very funny game.
CORASANITI Who was the best E Streeter?
SPRINGSTEEN Well, Clarence [Clemons, the saxophonist for the E Street Band] could swing the bat, you know? It was as simple as that.
CORASANITI As the Pony starts getting known a little bit more and then your albums are really taking off, did you start seeing peoplecoming during that summer that you played a lot with? Bobby Bandiera and Cats on a Smooth Surface? Did you notice that there were people coming to see specifically you there?
SPRINGSTEEN Well once again, the idea that you were playing pretty regularly on a Saturday or Sunday, yeah, people would show up. Funny thing is, I don’t remember it being that much of a problem or a hassle for me. I went regularly all through “Born in the U.S.A.” I mean, I saw Patti [Scialfa] before the “Born in the U.S.A.” tour, and that’s how she got in the band. So, it was a regular, it still was just a regular hang through that whole period of time.
CORASANITI Right. Correct me if I’m wrong, is that where you met Patti?
SPRINGSTEEN Yes, it is.
CORASANITI Was she playing onstage? Do you remember that night?
SPRINGSTEEN Yes. She came out and played onstage with, it might have been Bobby Bandiera or, I forget which local band was playing. But she came out and played the Exciters’ hit “Tell Him,” and she was very striking right from the beginning.
CORASANITI I’m sure that voice just kind of carried through the Pony.
SPRINGSTEEN Oh yeah.
CORASANITI Was there something kind of unique about the set up there? I’ve seen a bunch of shows there, and the low-slung stage, the way the crowd’s kind of close, to me, it stands out in rock clubs in the way you develop a relationship with the artist on the stage. Did you get that sense?
SPRINGSTEEN The Pony was laid out very strange. The stage didn’t project into the club long ways. It was kind of on the side of the club. And so there was a relatively small amount of people that could fit in there and really experience the band. You were close to everybody, and the ceiling was low, and it was a classic sort of rock club. You were close to the audience, very close to the audience.
And there were other clubs in the area that we played where the stage was higher or set in a more logical place, but I suppose they didn’t end up having the same down-home atmosphere as the Pony had.
CORASANITI Right. You mention it was always an easy vibe. Not much of a hassle. Were there back doors that you guys would enter in or ways you would kind of alert people?
SPRINGSTEEN Yeah, you’d come in through the kitchen.
CORASANITI I didn’t even know they had a kitchen.
SPRINGSTEEN Well, they have a sort of a kitchen, you know? It’s sort of a kitchen, but you’d come in through the back door. They never had any real backstage space. I don’t think it still does. They have to put people in trailers or on a bus or something. There’s no real backstage area in the Pony.
CORASANITI You can come through that door right next to the stage or hang out next to it.
SPRINGSTEEN There was never any space for that.
CORASANITI You mentioned the shows playing with Southside and Little Stevie early on. Do you remember any of those Cats shows from later on that really stick out in your head?
SPRINGSTEEN All I remember is they were a particularly good Top 40 bar band. And they were there regularly, so we ended up playing with them pretty steadily.
CORASANITI And playing in places like the Stone Pony regularly, did that influence your song writing or your music in any way?
SPRINGSTEEN Not really. They were just a convenient place to go and hang with your friends and hear some local music when you were still at an age where bar hopping was interesting to you. So it was just a local, friendly, convenient place that had a good feeling to it, and I suppose at that time it kept me kind of locked into the area and the local music scene while I was having my initial shot of success.
CORASANITI I think that was why so many people kept coming to to the Pony to see that.
CORASANITI So the other part of the story is also looking at Asbury Park and kind of how it was doing in relation to the Stone Pony. In that decade that you spoke of that was the real prime, how did you see the town doing? Was it struggling while the Pony was thriving?
SPRINGSTEEN I would say at the time, 1975 to 1985, the town was kind of on the last of its blue collar legs. And it would really become very desperate shortly. But my recollection was the boardwalk was still open and there were amusements and rides, and that part of the town hadn’t shut down yet.
But it was post the riots and so there was a noticeable closing down of a large part of the town in those days. So, it was just a little, hanging-on-by-a-thread, blue-collar beach town that happened to be our home.
CORASANITI Did it ever feel unsafe at the Stone Pony or wandering around Asbury?
SPRINGSTEEN Not that I recollect.
CORASANITI Were you surprised when it first closed in 1991?
SPRINGSTEEN Well, all things must pass. It was sort of the end of an era and all that. But the town was straining and changing. So it wasn’t a big shock.
CORASANITI Was there ever a worry that the Pony might never come back?
SPRINGSTEEN I don’t think anybody expected it initially to come back. So it was kind of a surprise, I suppose, when it did. And it was a pleasant surprise. You know it’s nice that it’s there, and I suppose it’s an attraction for people all over the world now. And they put on some pretty big shows, and they have their summer stage. It’s turned into a very nice thing.
CORASANITI How important do you think the Pony was to the town of Asbury Park?
SPRINGSTEEN Well, in the sense that it gave a home, once the Upstage closed, it gave a home to a local group of musicians who would, whose influence would be pretty far-reaching. I suppose it was important in that circumstance.
And it ended up being a little bit of part of the mythology of the town and those particular years, and that became a small part of the story of Asbury Park and spread around the world. So, if anybody told me that somebody in Holland would ever even know the Stone Pony, I would have been shocked. I mean, at its height, it was really, it was just a neighborhood bar.
CORASANITI Now you see Kenny Chesney wearing Stone Pony shirtson a world tour. So it certainly has that reach now.
SPRINGSTEEN Well, it’s much more of a real venue now.
CORASANITI What do you think of Asbury Park today? It’s kind of having this real resurgence.
SPRINGSTEEN I’m very, very happy about it. It’s amazing to go down there and see everything thriving. Like I say in my book, I’m kind of the Ghost of Christmas Past. I can invisibly walk down the boardwalk and everybody is busy going about their own current business. So it’s nice. Bit of a surprise it didn’t happen sooner. I mean, it was a beautiful town only an hour out of the city. But things happen in their own time. And so it’s nice to see its resurgence.
CORASANITI I wanted to just get back a little bit to those early days. There’s a question I forgot to ask. When you were playing those every Sundays, why was it that you just kept going to the Pony instead of another place?
SPRINGSTEEN We did go to some other places. We were at the Green Parrot in Neptune, and they had original bands, and there were a few other places we went. We went to quite a few other bars during that period of time. But there wasn’t any place quite like the Pony. The Pony was our home away from home, and that was just the way it stayed.
CORASANITI Was it the way that Jack and Butch kind of made it whatever you guys needed?
SPRINGSTEEN They made the place conducive to the musicians that it served. But they were just bar owners, too, they were regular bar owners. They were funny guys, but once again they just built an atmosphere there that people were comfortable in.
CORASANITI Yeah. Do you have any funny memories about Butch or Jack?
SPRINGSTEEN Well, it’s hard to say exactly. You’d have to know the color of the place, but they were just sort of funny guys. There was a lot of local color in the place, but I don’t have a single anecdote.
CORASANITI When you say local color though, what do you mean by that?
SPRINGSTEEN It’s just the people. The people that came were really drawn from that area. And as such were eccentric in their own way. I think if you were living and breathing in Asbury Park at the time, you were a bit of an eccentric. So there were a lot of local musicians, a lot of funny people into their own thing. It was just a place that had its own personality. It was when localism was still very local, you know? [Laughs]
But it was before the internet. So, it was before things had the potential to spread out through social media or anything. This is all pre-social media, so the message got sent the long way. But it was kind of a wonderful moment, looking back on it. Just that it was there.
CORASANITI I know you’ve got a show tonight. Just one more question for you. The shows of playing with Southside that stick out, and Cats, I’m wondering if you can describe what it was like playing there? Looking out at the audience or a memory of a song that you played that had a particular resonance?
SPRINGSTEEN The best way I could put it was just very every day. There was nothing uncommon going on there. I mean people look back and go, oh wow, Southside was playing there, Steve was there, I was there. But the regularness of it all was really what it was about. Three nights a week. Every week. There was nothing surprising going on. It was a very steady, comfortable environment.
I’m sure it was like bar life in a thousand other towns going on simultaneously. There was that one club where your local musicians gathered and would get up onstage and play. I think the only thing that was exceptional about it was that it was unexceptional.
Looking back on it, it was just a very down-home place where that group of musicians who inhabited Asbury Park at that moment could gather and be together and create, and very important in that sense, that there was a place. Because without the Pony, I don’t know, would there have been someplace else? Maybe. The Prince was for a little while, but you never know. So it was very important, in that sense.